A Townhouse In Sugar Hill For Under $1M? Yup.

If you’d like a townhouse but worried you can’t afford one – there are places out there that you just might be able to afford. While Washington Heights townhouses are generally less expensive – affordable townhouses are available in Harlem as well.

470 W 148 - front façadeCase and point is 470 West 148th Street – which is just outside the Sugar Hill historic district. It sold recently for $915,000 after being on and off the market for a quite a while. In fact it was on the market for around a million when we were looking in 2009. It was one of our fallback places in case we couldn’t find something we could afford.

So what do you get for $915,000? More than you’d think…

On the plus side you get a great single family home with 3,000 sq. ft. (12.5′ x 60′ x 4 stories) that’s in generally good condition. There is some original details left and a very peaceful back yard.

The biggest problem is that it’s not the entire building you see in the picture above. It’s just the left half of the building – that means the townhouse is only 12 1/2 feet wide. On the plus side it is 60 feet long and doesn’t feel as narrow inside as you might think, but there’s no denying it’s small. While it’s technically about 3,000 sq. ft. – that includes walls. Usable square feet are closer to 2,550 (11′ x 58′ x 4 stories).

Another issue is that while everything seemed like it was in decent shape, the renovation was minimal – sort of “rental grade” in terms of quality. Doors were a bit flimsy, the sheetrock was uneven, etc. But that’s something that can be fixed without too much trouble.

Other than width, the issue that really bothered Dan was the “fashion boutique” next door. Because the two townhouses look like one building, it’s more of an issue than it would be in a wider building. Here you can see what the entrance looked like and how prominent the signage was for the store next door…

470 West 148 - entrance

In the following pictures you can see that there is some original details left, but generally the level of renovation was just “OK”…

470 W 148 - bathroom

470 W 148 - ground floor office

470 w 148 - kitchen

470 West 148 - bedroom

In that last picture you see that the narrowness of the house is a bit of an issue. There’s not a whole lot of room between a queen sized bed and the fireplace. But compared to new build condos with their tiny bedrooms it’s not all that bad – just not as good as other townhouses in Harlem.

470 West 148 - original fireplaceThere are some nice original details left – like the fireplaces. They do add some nice character to the house.

Back when we were looking the comps were lower and if my memory serves me, I only felt it was worth something like $650 to $700K (to us) – which was well below the $1M asking.

Comps are higher now and all in all the sales price was probably about right. $915,000 comes out to $305 per square foot. Comps with better renovations are getting $400 to $450 per square foot (or more). And honestly the renovations in some of those comps aren’t really all that much better than what you have here. But there is the issue of the width and the signage on the sister townhouse. All in all I think it’s a great little house at the price of a so-so condo or coop.

And don’t forget – this place is completely mortgageable with a conventional mortgage. There are no renovation loan hassles (or renovation hassles). So it was a good deal.

The moral of the story is that if you’ve got limited funds there are a few townhouses out there that you can buy. You just may need to get a “starter” townhouse that’s narrow…

Postscript: There’s a funny story with this house… When Dan and I first saw the place we were killing time looking at open houses while our our agents were doing an open house for our coop. We had our dogs with us since they couldn’t be home while our agents were showing our apartment. So we’d go in one at a time while the other stayed with the dogs. Dan went in first and then I got a call – he and the agent had managed to get themselves locked in the back yard! Luckily they left the front door open, so I took the dogs in and opened the back door and “rescued” them. But the story doesn’t end there. A few weeks ago I was going through another house with a client during an open house and I saw the agent from 470 West 147 with one of her clients. And guess what happened? I got locked in the back yard with my client. Luckily the listing agent heard our knocks and got us out of the back yard quickly. Not sure what it is about the listing agent for 470 W 148 – but I now know to avoid back yards when she’s around. 🙂

540 West 149 Sells for $609K – $183/sq. ft.

facade of 540 west 149Yesterday I went over a low comp in Sugar Hill that sold for $79/sq. ft. But there was another sale recently – just 3 blocks south of the other one. 540 West 149th Street sold on 6/30/11 for $609K. The building is 16.67′ x 50′ x 4 stories – so 3,334 sq. ft. though officially it’s 3,400 sq. ft. At the lower square footage it nets out to $183/sq. ft. at the higher square footage it’s $179/sq. ft. So while the prices are just $119K apart, on a price per square foot basis the 149th Street property is more than twice as expensive.

So what do you get for the extra $120/sq. ft.? You get original details and a better location. This building still isn’t in the Sugar Hill historic district, and the buildings immediately west (542-548) are low-income housing. But unlike the 152nd Street property the block is predominantly brownstones / townhouses. The low-income housing next door is very nicely done (though they have the tell-tale wheelchair ramps you rarely find with owner-occupied houses). And the ever critical subway access is somewhat better than the 152nd Street property – just a 7 minute walk to the A/B/C/D express trains @ 145 and 5 minutes to the 1 train @ 145.

If I had to guess I would say original details probably made the biggest difference in the price. Mind you, the property still needs a complete gut renovation, but you’re not starting from scratch – you’ve got floors and walls, crown mouldings, fireplaces, doors, etc… Here are some pictures that show what I’m talking about…

bedroom at 540 west 149

fireplace at 540 west 149

wainscotting at 540 west 149

That’s a very different renovation than the one that will be needed at 535 West 152. At 152 the new owner is probably starting from scratch (like we our with our place) – rebuilding all the floors, the walls, the roof, etc. With this place it’s more about restoration – repairing what’s there and adapting it for modern use. It will still need all new electrical and plumbing. There will be rotten floor joists that have to be replaced, etc.

The place on 152 is best suited for someone who wants a rental property – since it has more square footage than any homeowner would ever need and the block is predominately a rental block. This place would appeal more to a homeowner who wants a wonderful old place that needs TLC.

Very different places with very different prices.

A Sugar Hill Townhouse Shell For $78/Sq. Ft.

535 West 152 - Harlem Townhouse ShellI think someone just got a pretty good deal on a Harlem townhouse shell… 535 West 152nd Street just sold for $490K. While the number may seem like it’s inline with other shell prices, apparently the place has 6,290 sq. ft. despite the fact that it’s just 16 2/3 feet wide and just 4 stories. That’s almost double the square footage of many Harlem townhouses. The place has an extension that stretches back 90 feet. So given the +/- 5 foot set back in the front – that’s nearly 100% lot coverage (though I’m sure there’s some sort of side yard).

At 6,290 sq. ft. the buyer bought the place at $78/sq. ft. – which is an incredible price. I’m not sure exactly what the condition was inside. The issue is that 6,290 is 566 sq. ft. over the max allowed square footage of 5,728. If it’s in really bad shape it’s possible that DOB might not allow the new owner to build back to restore the building to the original 6,290 sq. ft. Still, even at 5,728 sq. ft. they paid $86/sq. ft. – which is still very low.

The reason why this place went for such a reasonable price was because the seller was realistic about the place’s value. The seller was the same developer we purchased our townhouse from – TPE Townhouses Harlem (TPE is part of Tahl Propp – a big Harlem landlord). This was possibly the last of about a dozen townhouse shells they were selling. They weren’t giving away the townhouses, but they knew to sell a dozen shells you gotta take the best offer – even if it seems low.

Just to put this building in perspective… It’s outside the landmark district, and not all that close to subways – it’s a 6 minute walk to the 1 train at 157, 7 minutes to the C train at 155, and 8 minutes to the A/B/C/D trains at 145. The block it’s on is also mostly apartment buildings – not the charming tree-lined brownstone blocks you find elsewhere in Harlem. So it’s sorta lacking on location.

So there are great deals out there still. Now that I’ve got my real estate license and have access to all the listing databases it’s interesting to see what’s on the market. There are some interesting opportunities out there – but as always price continues to be an issue, as is matching the building to the particular needs of the buyer…

$2M Continues To Be Limit for Harlem Townhouses

Exterior of 319 Convent in Hamilton HeightsA number of Harlem townhouses continue to flirt with the $2M mark, but few of them go over that amount. The latest to push $2M is 319 Convent Avenue – a single family house in Hamilton Heights which just sold for $1,971,830.

319 Convent is one of the grande dames of Harlem townhouses – 20 feet wide, 55 feet long, and 5 stories tall – so roughly 5,500 square feet, though officially the square footage is 3,596 which less than you’d expect if they didn’t count the basement. Still, a big grand ‘ol house.

While the location and scale of the house are exceptional, based on the available interior photos, the overall condition seems to be just fair to good. There are no kitchen and bathroom shots – which is always a bad sign, and in the photos they do show there’s peeling wallpaper and the floors clearly need to be refinished. I would also expect there to be 100 year old plumbing and electrical – so the buyer is looking at a minimum of $200,000+ to bring the house up to current standards – and I could totally see someone spending a half million or even more on renovations to really do a great job. It’s the type of house that deserves that level of money to be put into it.

319 Convent living room

Notice the peeling wallpaper over the door in the next photo…

319 Convent peeling wallpaper

All in all though – an incredible house that’s clearly been lovingly maintained in near-original condition. I think the new owners will have many happy memories in that house 🙂

West Harlem Came After Central Harlem

I don’t want to bore people too much with a bunch of maps, but it’s interesting to note that West Harlem (Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill) came well after Central Harlem (which as we saw last time came after East Harlem)…

In my last posted I showed that the period of lots of street openings in Central Harlem was around 1869 to 1872. Looking at the interactive maps on the NY Times, you’ll see the streets in Sugar Hill were opened in the mid 1880s – about 15 years after Central Harlem. Here’s a map from 1884 showing that many of the streets in Sugar Hill hadn’t been opened yet (they were opened a year or two later)…

Remember that actual development (not just street openings) was well under way in Central Harlem by that time.

When you look further south to Hamilton Heights you’ll see that the prime blocks there (the ones currently landmarked), weren’t built until the mid 1890s. Here’s a map from 1892 showing that streets like Hamilton Terrace weren’t open yet.

So in general East Harlem came first, then Central Harlem, then Sugar Hill, then Hamilton Heights.